Aerospace engineers design and manufacture of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles and their related equipment. Engineers in the field are involved with aerospace products from conception to completion. This includes evaluating costs and deadlines, as well as testing products to ensure quality and safety. Engineering aerospace professionals are referred to as aerospace engineers, and they deal with craft that fly both within and outside the Earth's atmosphere. Aeronautical engineers concentrate on craft that fly within the atmosphere, but there is a lot of overlap between the two disciplines.
To start a career engineering aerospace products, you need at least an accredited bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Coursework includes engineering principles, physics, advanced mathematics, propulsion and understanding how air and gravity interact with objects in motion. Education programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, ABET. Some programs offer internships to provide practical experience for students.
Although not required, employment opportunities may increase for aerospace engineers who obtain the professional engineer license. To obtain the license, engineers submit an application and take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam during their last year of undergraduate studies. After about four years of professional experience, engineers are eligible to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Passing the exam results in a Professional Engineer, or PE, license.
Aerospace engineers start by analyzing design projects to ensure feasibility. They create proposals regarding cost, safety and technical requirements. Aerospace engineers then start the design process, creating and testing prototypes throughout the process. After product design and testing is completed, they create blueprints for manufacturing and explain assembly procedures to production workers. They oversee and direct the manufacturing process until the product is complete.
The largest percentage of aerospace engineers – about 35 percent – work in aerospace product and parts manufacturing firms. Some work for scientific research and development firms, engineering services firms and the federal government. Because many aerospace engineers design air and space products for government agencies, many employers require federal-level security clearance for employment. Security clearance generally requires an application, an extensive background check and passing a drug test.
Outlook and Salary
Only about 5 percent growth is expected for aerospace engineers between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although slow growth is expected, security clearance requirements will assist in keeping jobs in the United States, rather than outsourcing them oversees. About 4,000 jobs are expected to open during that timeframe to design aircraft that are more environmentally friendly and safer. Among 79,400 aerospace engineers employed in the United States in 2011, the average salary was $103,870 per year, according to the BLS.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Aerospace Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Aerospace Engineers
- National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying: The P.E. License
- National Society of Professional Engineers: Licensure
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